Uganda, like all other countries, was very much affected by the Covid 19 pandemic. Among those who suffered the most are the nearly 15 million children and youth who did not attend school for almost 2 years due to the pandemic strict lockdown. Some of its consequences are a big number of early marriages among girls and teenage pregnancies. The government issued a policy allowing all children (pregnant ones included) to go back to school, once it was opened in January 2022. The Church in Uganda saw how much the girl child was affected by the Covid lockdown and her education challenge in post-covid period.
At the end of April 2022, I participated in a workshop organized by Africa Faith and Justice Network, Association of Religious in Uganda and John Paul II Justice and Peace Centre, entitled “Education and decent work for all: Address the impact of Covid-19 on teenage girls’ education.”
Among the participants from different parts of Uganda were religious sisters of various congregations working in different ministries, and representatives from the youth. For the first two days we were introduced to the topic of social justice and given guidelines on how to practice advocacy. After exchanging experiences and opinions, listening to the research report and to those who work in schools, we came up with an advocacy letter in which we recommended that the government review the existing policy as it has many gaps and doesn’t facilitate the education of girls who became pregnant during the Covid lockdown.
The last day, all of us as a group went to the Parliament to read our letter to them and deposit it in the offices of different authorities in charge of education in Uganda. We were received very well as we heard that the officials respect the Catholic Church, and especially religious sisters. It was impressive to see a group of about 40 veiled sisters heading towards the Uganda Parliament. We completed the first step of our advocacy endeavor; now we are waiting for their reply.
Another thing that touched me during the workshop was the encounter I had with the people who fight for justice and peace in Uganda. Among them was Amos, a young man who during the online zoom with Talitha Kum Uganda and Kenya last year, gave testimony of his work with Karamojong-street children. He shared with me how that zoom workshop of last year empowered him, enabled him to make connections with the activists in Kenya and United Kingdom and build up his confidence. Nowadays he is able to approach courageously any police person or member of parliament and do an effective advocacy for the trafficked street children.
Another person that I met for the first-time face to face is Juanita, a young woman survivor of human trafficking who shared with us her testimony during the same online workshop last year. Today she is an artist and is working closely with John Paul II Justice and Peace Centre helping other survivors and advocating against human trafficking.
In our apostolate among the refugees in the North of Uganda we discover many areas in which we may need to advocate for the rights of the people to whom we are sent. I am very happy to have acquired more practical skills in doing advocacy.
Sister Magdalena Orczykowska, Ukusijoni Community – Uganda